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The High Man
A talk by Anthony Murphy first delivered at the Bard/Mythical Ireland exhibition in St. Stephen’s Green, and here with slight additions for the Art in Action Festival, Townley Hall, June 6th, 2004, and the Hill of Tara Summer Solstice Festival, June 20th, 2004.
Amergin's chant

Lines from Amergin's chant against a sunset at the Boyne Estuary. Click to download.

In the year 1694, according to the Annals, the Milesians arrived in Ireland to take it from the Tuatha Dé Danann. The leader of this Spanish invasion, Amergin, set foot on the shore of Inbher Colpa, the Boyne Estuary, and chanted some very famous lines, including: "Who but I knows the place where the Sun sets?"and "Who but I knows the ages of the Moon?"
Speculation abounds as to the true meaning of the invasion myths. Some think they are purely myths, the invention of fertile ancient minds; others, that they are pseudo-historical accounts, a sort of embellished history of an old Ireland shrouded in myth, magic and mystery; others still believe that the myths record actual events, but were expanded and exaggerated to include some sort of arcane knowledge so that the stories could be used as the vehicles for transporting scientific knowledge from one generation to the next. Was Amergin a real man, or was he purely a mythical invention, a mysterious being immortalized in words but lacking in subtance?
Sandy Dunlop, one of the founders of the Bard group, said at a recent talk that when most people wonder about mythology, they ask, "Is it true?". Mr. Dunlop suggested a more appropriate question would be "Is the myth useful?"

"Who but I knows the ages of the Moon?", Amergin asked as he planted his foot on the fertile soil along the Boyne Estuary. There are two significant "ages" of the Moon. There is its 18.6-year eclipse cycle, also known as the 'Saros'cycle, which brings the lunar nodes once around the heavens, through the Zodiac. After this period, eclipses repeat themselves in regular, predictable and recordable patterns. Then there is the Moon's 19-year cycle, which brings the phases of the Moon back to the same background stars once again. This is called the Metonic Cycle, after a Greek called Meton who apparently discovered the phenomenon back in the fifth century BC.

If Amergin was an astronomer, he was not the first in the Boyne Valley.

Calendar Stone

The markings on the Calendar Stone at Knowth.

Markings on the so-called "Calendar Stone" at Knowth have been interpreted to show that there were competent astronomers studying the lunar movements along the Boyne as long ago as 3300BC, and probably earlier. These markings would appear to suggest that both Meton and Amergin were a little bit late with their astronomical knowledge, and that the real pioneer astronomers had lived and died many centuries previously - in Meton's case nearly 3,000 years previously.

In local folklore, Amergin is said to be buried at the Millmount in Drogheda. The modern-day monument is famous for its Martello tower, first built as a defensive fortification when the British built their military barracks at Millmount in the early 1800s. The name Millmount is said to be derived from a mill which once sat atop the mound, owned by a man called Delahoyde. But the name, whether through coincidence or purpose, commemorates the man said to be buried underneath. Amergin and his brothers were sons of a Spanish king called Mil, hence the collective name Milesians. Their brother, Colpa, was drowned during the tempestuous clash with Dé Danann magic as they tried to land. He is said to be buried under a mound not far from the spot downstream from Millmount where Amergin was said to have landed. The road leading to Colpa's mound from the river is called, again perhaps coincidentally, the Mill road.


The Millmount in Drogheda.

We know Millmount was important in ancient times. The annals say it was one of the great monuments of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and record that it was plundered by the Vikings in the Ninth Century, along with Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.

We know that Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth all have astronomical functions. Newgrange is the most famous of the three and its winter solstice alignment is known around the world. Richard Moore and myself have been carrying out research into Millmount and the Boyne Valley and its myths and astronomy for five years. We have found some very interesting evidence which might help explain the meaning of some of the myths. "What land is better than this island of the setting sun?", "Who but I knows the place where the sun sets?" Amergin said.

The first interesting significance about these lines is the date of the arrival of the Milesians - the feast of Bealtaine, 1694. Bealtaine, which falls at the beginning of May, is said to be one of the Celtic cross-quarter days, dating back to a time when the calendar year was organised into eight sections, divided by the solstices, equinoxes and cross-quarter days. However, there is evidence aplenty that the cross-quarter days were important back in the Stone Age when Newgrange and Knowth were constructed. Bealtaine would have marked the beginning of the "bright half" of the year, with Samhain, at the beginning of November, the celebration of Hallowe'en, marked the beginning of the dark half.

Sun in Orion's hand

The sun in Orion's hand.

On the day the Milesians arrived in Ireland, May 1st, 1694BC, the Sun was located in he hand of Orion, one of two points in the sky where the Sun's path crosses the Milky Way, the heavenly Boyne River, the Bealach na Bó Finne, the "Way of the Bright Cow".
The second significance of Amergin's chant about the Sun and Moon is connected with Millmount's astronomical alignments.
On Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year, the day on which the sunrise penetrates into the chamber of Newgrange, a person standing on Millmount would see the sun setting in the direction of the Hill of Tara.

Hill of Tara

The Hill of Tara. Click to go there.

In one story, Tara is said to be named after the mythical queen Tea, who asked Amergin to choose the most beautiful hill in Ireland upon which she would be buried and her descendants would rule. Amergin chose for her the "Druim Cain", the "Beautiful Hill", which would become known as Temair after the queen.

When Amergin's brothers Eremon and Eber assumed kingship of Ireland, they divided the country into two and the dividing line was the Boyne river. Local folklore records that Millmount itself was a dividing marker. West of Millmount is the Hill of Slane, upon which is another mound which is said to be the burial place of the Fir Bolg King, Sláine. The Fir Bolg divided Ireland into five kingdoms, not of equal size, with Sláine taking the largest portion, again with the Boyne acting as a dividing boundary.

Sunset at Slane

Sunset at the Hill of Slane viewed from Millmount in Drogheda on March 22nd, 2004, the night the High Man poster was launched at Millmount.

At the time of Spring Equinox, the sun viewed from Millmount sets over the Hill of Slane. Here we have an interesting correlation between events in the sky and the monuments on the ground. On its journey through the zodiac, the Sun spends half the year north of the Milky Way, and half the year south.
On the ground, the sunsets viewed from Millmount spend half the year north of the Boyne river and half the year south. On May 1st, 1694, when Amergin landed, the Sun was in the Milky Way, and would spend the following six months north of the Milky Way before crossing over the river again at Samhain.

Now, one half year plus another half year equals one whole year. (Obviously). This was the length of time Eber and Eremon ruled Ireland under a joint sovereignty agreement before things turned sour. The two boys, spurred on by their women, became jealous of each other and each desired the sole kingship of Ireland. So they battled to the death, and Eremon killed his brother to become the king of all Ireland.

Orion setting at Tara

The Orion Nebula setting over the Hill of Tara. An observer at Millmount would see Orion setting in the direction of Tara. Click this image for a larger view.

This means Eremon would have become king of Ireland on the feast of Bealtaine, logically.
Back in the Neolithic, long before Amergin and the boys came to Ireland, the constellation Orion had another major significance. The constellation at that time would appear to rise and set in the direction of Winter Solstice sunrise and sunset, the events which were targeted by the chambers of Newgrange and Dowth. We can imagine a giant man, or warrior, placing his feet on the earth as he set. If Millmount is as old as Newgrange, this would mean its builders would have seen Orion setting in the direction of Tara. Specifically, the Orion Nebula marked the exact point of Winter Solstice sunset. Interestingly, if we continue the Winter Solstice line from Millmount

Orion setting over Carbury

The Orion Nebula setting over the Hill of Tara and beyond that at Carbury Well, the source of the Boyne. Click for large view.

through Tara and onwards, it eventually meets Carbury Well in Co.Kildare, the mythical rising place of the Boyne.
The story of the drowning of Bóann links the source of the Boyne and the estuary. Bóann approached Nechtain’s well, which she was not supposed to do. Nechtain was her husband, by the way. The well was guarded by three cup bearers. We have speculated that the Orion Nebula could be the mythical Nechtain's Well of the sky, and that as Orion set over Carbury viewed from Millmount, the Nechtain's Well of the sky was seen to connect with the Nechtain's Well on the ground. Thus also was the source of the Boyne at Carbury linked up with the estuary (Millmount), as the story implies.

Some time between the Stone Age and the date given for the arrival of Amergin, the very bright star 'Rigel' would have marked out Tara as viewed from Millmount. Rigel is one of the oldest Arabic star names, and means "foot". It is the sixth brightest star in the entire night sky, out of a total visible count of 6,500 stars.
Amergin's epithet was "Glúingeal", meaning "fair knee" or "bright knee". Taken literally, what does this mean? Did Amergin get up every morning and polish his right knee until it shone? As an astronomical myth, it could be an effort to describe the constellation Orion and the bright star Rigel. Was Amergin, the self-proclaimed "Gigantic, Sword-Wielding Champion", really a constellation of the night sky - Orion?

Orion has long been seen, by many people in many nations, as a giant man in the sky, sometimes a hunter, sometimes a warrior, sometimes a god. It is one of those few constellations which actually looks like what it is supposed to represent.

Its belt stars point to Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the entire sky. His rising heralds the arrival of that most luminous of stars. Again back in the Stone Age, Sirius was important because it shared the same rising and setting positions as the Winter Solstice sun.

The beam of sunlight on the chamber floor

The beam of sunlight on the floor of the chamber at Newgrange

This means the Dog Star would have been visible from the chamber of Newgrange every night as it rose over the hill of Redmountain, a fact not lost on author William Battersby who refers to this fact in his book about Newgrange. We’ve often wondered if this was why three dog skeletons were found in the chamber of Newgrange during excavations? At Millmount, Sirius would have marked the location of Tara when it was setting.

From the standing stones at Baltray, near the mouth of the Boyne, Sirius would have risen at the islands of Rockabill, over 15 miles away.

These islands were said to have been formed by Bóann's lapdog, Dabilla, which was drowned with her after the rising waters from Nechtain’s Well washed her out to sea when the Boyne was formed. The Winter Solstice alignment of Baltray was discovered in 1999 by myself, Richard Moore and Michael Byrne.

It is quite probable the megalithic builders knew the significance of Orion and Sirius. A beautifully decorated kerbstone at Newgrange could, we think, contain representations of Orion's Belt stars. Now that we've had an introduction to the giant man of the heavens, we turn to the giant warrior on the ground, the "High Man".

The HIgh Man This is the gigantic figure of a warrior-like man, etched into the landscape by a system of roads near the east coast of Ireland in an area called Ferrard, which means "High Man". Measuring 12 miles from top to bottom, the incredibly human-like character looms large on a very sacred and historical landscape.
It may seem odd that such a life-like figure should exist in the road network, and it may seem that only extraordinary chance could result in such an outstanding visual icon. But what if this gargantuan individual was not the result of chance, but rather the exceptional brilliance of an ancient design? In the context of the Irish mythical and archaeological environment, this high hero finds himself in the most eminent area of the entire country. He has his legs planted in the Boyne, Ireland's foremost sacred river in ancient times; he lies on an area rich in archaic myth and abundant in tales of giant mythical heroes; and within his boundaries lie Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth - the foremost Irish monuments, rich in astronomy, legend and art.

Millmount, the burial place of Amergin "bright knee", marks the "knee" star of Orion on the ground.

Millmount, the burial place of Amergin of the "bright knee", marks the knee of this giant figure. Another great mythical champion who often had his feet planted in the waters of a river was Cúchulainn, the principal character of the epic Táin Bó Cuailnge. Cúchulainn is firmly connected with Newgrange - his spiritual father Lugh having visited his mother Dechtine during her time there and magically impregnated her. He was described in the Táin as "a huge, high hero . . . vast as a Fomorian giant".

Much of the action in this legendary saga is concentrated in an area known long ago as Muirthemhne, but which today is called County Louth, after Cúchulainn’s spiritual father, Lugh Lamhfada, Lugh of the Long Arm. Muirthemhne was "the plan which Cúchulainn called his own"”.

The Táin describes Cúchulainn as having a gold-hilted sword in a high clasp on his belt, its ivory guard decorated with gold, a description befitting of the constellation Orion. Many of Cúchulainn's battles took place at river fords - crossing points - so it is fitting when gazing upon Orion to see him stand beneath one of the two fords of the sky, the crossing point of the Moon and planets over the Milky Way. It is also fitting that Louth village, named after Cúchulainn's father Lugh, marks this crossing point above the giant man. Louth was said to have been the centre of an ancient Sun cult.

Also interesting is the fact that Drogheda, or Droichead Átha, was a known fording point or crossing point on the Boyne in ancient times and marks the point where the High Man's leg meets the water.
We heard about Nechtain earlier on. He was an archetypal Orion-like figure and a Tuatha Dé Danann king also known as Nuadu Silver-Arm. As we said already, it was supposedly Nechtain's well, at Carbury, Co. Kildare, which gave rise to the Boyne River after his wife Bóann (the bright cow/Moon) had approached it.
Nechtain's arm was famously chopped off in battle and replaced by the healer Diancecht with a new silver arm. Orion's upraised arm is shrouded by the Milky Way – the heavenly Boyne – which was described as the 'Great Silver Yolk'. It is interesting to note that this mythical episode may have provided some inspiration for George Lucas' Star Wars movies. In Star Wars Part V (the second movie in the original trilogy), Luke Skywalker confronts the evil Darth Vader, against the advice of his peers. During this confrontation, Vader reveals he is Luke's father, and during their fighting, Luke's hand is chopped off by Darth Vader. Later in the film, we see Luke getting a new hand, a robotic limb which works perfectly, just like the old hand!

Another interesting link with the movies ties Lord of the Rings in with Ardee! Local legend says that in the last days, a mythical six-fingered hero will take a sword out of the stone in Garrett's Fort, and rouse the mythical enchanted army which is said to be sleeping there. This sounds very much like the great King Arthur, and may well be an Irish variant of the same story. In the third film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, which by itself sounds like a messianic prediction, Aragorn goes into a cave and uses the sword of the king to rouse the dead army, who help him fight on the Pelennor fields and win the battle. Amazing stuff! All based on mythical literature, apparently. Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien did spend some time in Ireland, surprise, surprise. Anyway, this great hero figure will return for the glory of Ireland according to some versions. His appearance, along with the re-emergence of the black pig from his hideout at Carrickanane, between Collon and Drogheda, Co. Louth, signal the last days of this earth.

Text Copyright © Anthony Murphy, 2004.

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High Man sidebar
The High Man
Hill of Tara - seat of the kings
Slane - St. Patrick's fire
Newgrange - Brú na Bóinne
Dowth - place of darkness
Knowth - Moon cycles
Millmount - Drogheda
Rockabill - Dabilla
Baltray - Standing Stones
Boyne River - Milky Way
Mellifont -the "pleasant plain"
Mount Oriel - "Golden Hostages"
Kildemock - "Jumping Church"
Garrett's Fort - enchanted army
Ardee - Caiseal Guth-Aird
Louth - Lugh's mound
Dunleer - Lann Léire
Astronomical art -various
Orion -great warrior of the sky
The roads -straight and ancient
The Poster

The High Man poster is a high-quality B2-sized poster which is laminated and features a silver glitter effect along the river Boyne. The poster will make a great present for anyone interested in Irish ancient sites and their mythology, astronomy, art and archaeology. The poster is a limited edition production. It is priced 15 euro. (P&P extra)

The poster is also available to buy at tbe Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, Donore, Co. Meath. (Phone: +353 41 9880300)
News Articles
The High Man - a giant warrior in the landscape - Drogheda Leader
Five year research project uncovers giant depiction of ancient warrior - Meath Chronicle article
Researchers highlight "High Man" road link in South Louth - Drogheda Independent article
Click here to find out what some people are saying about the High Man.
More Information

The High Man - a comprehensive talk about aspects of this fascinating theory. Find out more about the High Man here.

There is considerable information relating to various aspects of the High Man poster on the Mythical Ireland website.

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